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How does Agile relate to CMM Level 5?

A question in my mail box: “How does Agile relate to CMM Level 5?”

As I started to tap out the answer I thought: this might as well be a blog entry. So here it is.

Think of CMM, or rather CMMI which replaced CMM about 10 years ago, as a ruler. It is a way of measuring software development effectiveness. Is your development process 1cm good? 2cm good? or 5cm?

CMMI doesn't say how you should do development, only how you should judge effectiveness. Agile is a way of doing things - as opposed to "the state of Agile" which is a measure of effectiveness.

You can use Agile to be any CMMI level you like. CMMI doesn't care how you do it. Watts Humphrey (the father of CMM) used to say something along the lines of “Work on you quality and processes first, the levels will come by themselves.” That statement is very Agile. Unfortunately some organisations get it the wrong way around. I was at Reuters when they imposed CMM and destroyed a big chunk of their development capability.

The late Watts Humphrey did issue some process recommendations in the form of the Personal Software Process and Team Software Process.

That’s the easy bit.

"The state of being Agile" might, or might not, conflict with Level 5 CMMI simply because different things are considered important. You might be CMMI level 5 and decidedly unAgile.

Ironically CMMI level 5 might mean you have to investigate Agile. Because being level 5 means you are “self optimising”. If an organisation is level 5 and hasn’t looked at Agile it should because that may help them improve.

Paradoxically, being level 5 itself makes it becomes harder to improve. The risk of change is a lot greater because the organisation has more to loWaterfallse - and probably lots of procedures to update making any change expensive.

CMM(I) tends to be associated with a certain way of doing things. Partly this is historic: when CMM(I) appeared Waterfall was the dominant model, NASA was the first organization to reach level 5 and (at the time) it was very Waterfall based, and because CMM(I) tends to be more common in military work which are also big and paper work intensive.

So, some people believe that CMM(I) means following a very structured, heavy, WaterfallWaterfall process. It doesn’t have to mean this but historically the two do tend to coincide.

The Software Engineering Institute issued a report in 2008 which discussed how CMMI and Agile could work together: CMMI or Agile: Why not embrace both! I don’t agree with everything in the report but I do agree with the general tone. CMMI and Agile are not alternatives and can be complementary.

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